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Disabling MH370 transponder would require ‘expert’: ex-IATA chief

Expert knowledge would have been needed to disable the transponder on the missing Malaysia Airlines plane, according to the former head of aviation trade body IATA, who said a fight involving the pilot could have taken place in the cockpit.

The mystery surrounding the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 deepened after officials said the last radio message from the plane came from the co-pilot who signed off with an informal message of, "all right, good night", adding to fears the plane could have been hijacked.

A transponder that sends key information about the flight such as altitude and speed back to air traffic controllers was shut down on the plane without any explanation, creating one of the biggest headaches for authorities.

(Read more: Malaysia police probe flight engineer on missing plane)

Tand Chhin Sothy | AFP | Getty Images

But Giovanni Bisignani, the former director general and CEO of International Air Transport Association (IATA), the world airline trade body, told CNBC that technical knowledge would have been needed to disable the device.

"It is not easy, it is not something that you click in the cockpit. You have to open a box with a special screw, go in, take cables out. It is not something that is very easy to identify. You have to be an expert," Bisignani told CNBC.

Fight on board

The Beijing-bound plane was carrying 239 passengers and vanished off the radars of the Malaysian authorities on March 8. Investigators believe the plane was diverted thousands of miles off course, but mystery still surrounds the plane's whereabouts and sequence of events.

According to officials, the plane flew at an altitude of 45,000 feet, before descending to 23,000 feet in an erratic flight path. Bisignani said this could be down to a fight in the cockpit.

(Read more: MH370 a 'complex' mystery: Air France lead investigator)

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